When I first heard about the premise of Chernobyl Diaries I was like Channing Tatum in 21 Jump Street: "F*ck science!" Honestly extreme tourism? People pay for a trip to Pripyat — an abandoned city near the site of one of the worst nuclear disaster in history — for some vacation photos? Well it is possible and people actually do it despite the lingering radiation and other serious dangers but hopefully none of them are as painfully dumb as the characters in Diaries.
Jesse McCartney is Chris the sensible little brother who really would have preferred to stick with the plan: a day trip to Moscow where he'd pop the question to his girlfriend Natalie (Olivia Dudley). His older brother Paul (Jonathan Sadowski) is a bit of a bad boy horndog with a taste for adventure who insistst they and their recently dumped friend Amanda (Devin Kelly) go on an exciting trip to Pripyat instead. Amanda is also a photographer of sorts because she has a fancy camera and is taking photos of everything. Other than that we know almost nothing about any of the characters (although Paul does note that "the chicks are f*cking amazing"). They are later joined by Michael (Nathan Phillips) and Zoe (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) who prove to be equally forgettable.
Paul knows how to party so he leads Chris Natalie and Amanda to a sketchy office to set up their trip to Pripyat. The tour guide is named what else Yuri (Dimitri Diatchenko) and he even has a dingy sign on the wall that reads "Yuri's Extreme Travel" and lots of photos of him in military garb. He's built like a brick house — but he's no match for the ridiculousness that awaits them.
The build-up to what they do find is interminable especially given what non-horrors await. At one point I was hoping it would turn out to be something similar to The Happening but no such luck. Just a bunch of bald zombie-types lurking in the mist and gnawing on human flesh! Although there's something to be said for leaving scary stuff lurking in the shadows it's also a good idea to establish enough tension beforehand so that we actually care about what is supposed to be scaring us.
According to writer/producer Oren Peli a good deal of the dialogue was improvised which is a bit of a relief as the actors drop gems like "What exactly happened in Chernobyl?" and "Nature has reclaimed its rightful home " as well as tidbits like "Stop being a p*ssy" and "Maybe there's a gun in here!" This is director Bradley Parker's first feature and although he does occasionally have trouble keeping the camera steady he doesn't rely on shaky-cam "found footage " for the most part.
Naturally some people are offended that filmmakers would use a human tragedy as the backdrop of a horror movie but plenty of movies use tragic events for fodder. They should be more offended that it's just so boring.
In This Means War – a stylish action/rom-com hybrid from director McG – Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) and Chris Pine (Star Trek) star as CIA operatives whose close friendship is strained by the fires of romantic rivalry. Best pals FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) are equally accomplished at the spy game but their fortunes diverge dramatically in the dating realm: FDR (so nicknamed for his obvious resemblance to our 32nd president) is a smooth-talking player with an endless string of conquests while Tuck is a straight-laced introvert whose love life has stalled since his divorce. Enter Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) a pretty plucky consumer-products evaluator who piques both their interests in separate unrelated encounters. Tuck meets her via an online-dating site FDR at a video-rental store. (That Lauren is tech-savvy enough to date online but still rents movies in video stores is either a testament to her fascinating mix of contradictions or more likely an example of lazy screenwriting.)
When Tuck and FDR realize they’re pursuing the same girl it sparks their respective competitive natures and they decide to make a friendly game of it. But what begins as a good-natured rivalry swiftly devolves into romantic bloodsport with both men using the vast array of espionage tools at their disposal – from digital surveillance to poison darts – to gain an edge in the battle for Lauren’s affections. If her constitutional rights happen to be violated repeatedly in the process then so be it.
Lauren for her part remains oblivious to the clandestine machinations of her dueling suitors and happily basks in the sudden attention from two gorgeous men. Herein we find the Reese Witherspoon Dilemma: While certainly desirable Lauren is far from the irresistible Helen of Troy type that would inspire the likes of Tuck and FDR to risk their friendship their careers and potential incarceration for. At several points in This Means War I found myself wondering if there were no other peppy blondes in Los Angeles (where the film is primarily set) for these men to pursue. Then again this is a film that wishes us to believe that Tom Hardy would have trouble finding a date so perhaps plausibility is not its strong point.
When Lauren needs advice she looks to her boozy foul-mouthed best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler). Essentially an extension of Handler’s talk-show persona – an acquired taste if there ever was one – Trish’s dialogue consists almost exclusively of filthy one-liners delivered in rapid-fire succession. Handler does have some choice lines – indeed they’re practically the centerpiece of This Means War’s ad campaign – but the film derives the bulk of its humor from the outrageous lengths Tuck and FDR go to sabotage each others’ efforts a raucous game of spy-versus-spy that carries the film long after Handler’s shtick has grown stale.
Business occasionally intrudes upon matters in the guise of Heinrich (Til Schweiger) a Teutonic arms dealer bent on revenge for the death of his brother. The subplot is largely an afterthought existing primarily as a means to provide third-act fireworks – and to allow McGenius an outlet for his ADD-inspired aesthetic proclivities. The film’s action scenes are edited in such a manic quick-cut fashion that they become almost laughably incoherent. In fairness to McG he does stage a rather marvelous sequence in the middle of the film in which Tuck and FDR surreptitiously skulk about Lauren's apartment unaware of each other's presence carefully avoiding detection by Lauren who grooves absentmindedly to Montel Jordan's "This Is How We Do It." The whole scene unfolds in one continuous take – or is at least craftily constructed to appear as such – captured by one very agile steadicam operator.
Whatever his flaws as a director McG is at least smart enough to know how much a witty script and appealing leads can compensate for a film’s structural and logical deficiencies. He proved as much with Charlie’s Angels a film that enjoys a permanent spot on many a critic’s Guilty Pleasures list and does so again with This Means War. The film coasts on the chemistry of its three co-stars and only runs into trouble when the time comes to resolve its romantic competition which by the end has driven its male protagonists to engage in all manner of underhanded and duplicitous activities. This Means War being a commercial film – and likely an expensive one at that – Witherspoon's heroine is mandated to make a choice and McG all but sidesteps the whole thorny matter of Tuck and FDR’s unwavering dishonesty not to mention their craven disregard for her privacy. (They regularly eavesdrop on her activities.) For all their obvious charms the truth is that neither deserves Lauren – or anything other than a lengthy jail sentence for that matter.
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Television's depiction of marriage has changed significantly since The Dick Van Dyke Show's Rob and Laura Petrie ruled the small screen. Since you're reading this article, I'll assume your life is as encompassed by television as mine is, so I won't bother explaining what they were like. But in brief, they got along swimmingly. However, today's TV shows don't exactly afford the same luxuries to their wedded couples. Perhaps it's allegorical. Maybe it's a heightened sophistication of art. It could be that we're all just really bitter now. But TV marriages are a lot rockier these days. As such, we've got a few shining (embittered) examples.
The Couple in Question: Walt & Skylar
Relationship Status: Separated
What Went Wrong: I may be just grasping at straws here, but I'd say it was the meth. Beyond that, though, Walter White's Achilles heel is his pride. It's what it's what ruined his friendship with his college roommate Elliot; it's what ate him from the inside out when he had to accept a job at a car wash in order to support his family financially; and it's what kept him from telling anyone about his disease or from pursuing treatment. Further than that, it's what is getting him into a deeper hole with his newest employer. But back to his marriage: Walt seems to place his own self-image above even his love for his family. He refused to accept handouts from in-laws Marie and Hank when they would have been a far saner choice to dealing meth, but he needed to be the man. This has kept him at a distance from Skylar since before the events of the series began. However, it was ultimately his involvement in the drug trade (not to mention his countless lies about it) that broke up his marriage. Although, I'd be remiss if I didn't say how much I truly, adamantly and whole-heartedly hate Skylar.
The Couple in Question: Hank and Marie
Relationship Status: Strained
What Is Going Wrong: Ever since Hank was shot (you can also chalk that one up to Walt), things have turned sour in regard to his relationship with Marie. The recuperating Hank is extremely impatient with his wife's attentive nature, her inability to refer to his prized minerals as such ("Ordering another rock?"), and her zealous encouragement. Marie, at last, seems to be allowing Hank to break her—the final moments of "Thirty-Eight Snub," which aired this past Sunday, showed that her patience with the growling, unkind man her husband has been this season is slipping. I can't predict just yet that their marriage will necessarily face any major catastrophes...but it's not as if Vince Gilligan offers us much in the vein of "light drama."
Curb Your Enthusiasm
The Couple in Question: Larry & Cheryl
Relationship Status: Divorced
What Went Wrong: Cheryl David played the impossibly patient Job figure to her husband's endless antics. Devoted boundlessly to their marriage, she even agreed to let Larry have an affair on their tenth wedding anniversary in order to convince him to marry her. So why, after over fifteen years, does their marriage fail? Simply, the same reason it’s difficult to watch more than two episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm in one sitting. From a distance, and in small doses, Larry David is a phenomenon of entertainment. He could even be described as poignant and philosophic. But being married to this individual (and I’m only talking about the character—I reserve none of these presumptions about the man himself, whom I’ve heard is actually quite the gentleman) for fifteen-plus years, as Cheryl was, would be akin to eating sandpaper with every meal.
The Couple in Question: Celia & Dean
Relationship Status: Loveless
What Went Wrong: What went right? It is tradition in comedy to have a secondary married couple that can never stop bickering: Fred and Ethyl Mertz (I Love Lucy), Gladys and Abner Kravitz (Green Acres), Stanley and Helen Roper (Three's Company), Frank and Marie Barone (Everybody Loves Raymond); something common among all of these pairs is that it is made evident that, despite their hostility, they truly do love one another. Celia and Dean, it seems, do not. They're vindictive, manipulative, spiteful, unfaithful... The reasons they got married in the first place are hardly decipherable, beyond the assumption of entirely superficial reasons: presumably, Celia married Dean for the financial luxury, and Dean married Celia for the sexual luxury.
The Walking Dead
The Couple in Question: Rick & Lori
Relationship Status: In trouble (although Rick may not know it yet)
What Is Going Wrong: Although the Grimes' marriage is not over yet (and doesn't necessarily promise to ever be), the trouble began when Lori assumed Rick was dead. She fell into the arms of Rick's best friend Shane for comfort, and the two became romantically entangled. Once Rick shows up, however, Lori cut things off with Shane. But clearly, as of the Season One finale, this whole matter is far from put to bed. Shane is not okay with this new situation, and it's clear that Lori might not be entirely happy with it either.
The Couple in Question: Louie & Louie's unseen ex-wife
Relationship Status: Divorced
What Went Wrong: It is never made clear; so little do we know about Louie's life that we cannot be sure whether his insuperably negative attitude contributed to his divorce, or if it the ex inspired said bitterness. But we know that Louie is not on particularly good terms with her; we know that Louie's sister Gretchen despised her; and we know—because she told us, and him—that Louie's younger daughter prefers her.
The Big C
The Couple in Question: Cathy and Paul
Relationship Status: All patched up
What Went Wrong: After being diagnosed with cancer, Cathy went nuts. She threw Paul out of the house and started burning furniture. Paul, having no idea why his wife was acting this way, took the opportunity to cheat on her with the Rugby Slut (a former schoolmate who likes to sleep with amateur rugby players: a category into which Paul just makes it). Cathy has her own affair with an alluring-accented painter in the form of Idris Elba. Their affairs and separation don't last a second longer than Cathy's secrecy about her disease, however. Once she reveals that she has cancer, Paul immediately forgives her and vows to make up his own misdeeds to her. Since then, he has been obsessively devoted to Cathy, their marriage, and her illness. So, this is one story that actually ends happily! ...Except for the melanoma.
Parks and Recreation
The Couples in Question: Ron & Tammies
Relationship Status: Divorced, three times total (once from Tammy 1, twice from Tammy 2)
What Went Wrong: Ron Swanson has two ex-wives, which, straight from the moustachioed horse's mouth, are "both named Tammy, both bitches." Ron Swanson enjoys a "strong, salt-of-the-earth, self-possessed woman at the top of her field." One could see how this led him to fall for Tammy 2, who is nothing if not empowered. However, she's also a psychopath. She manipulates Ron even after their marriage...although, it seems as though Ron's second divorce with Tammy 2 (after a week-long, if it even reached that, explosion of passion that involved a wedding ceremony, breaking-and-entering, and a vicious affront to Ron's Swanson Pyramid of Greatness-approved haircut) might have cemented the idea in his head that she is unadulterated evil. She does, after all, work for the library. Tammy 1 is an even scarier situation: we have yet to meet her, but the mere mention that she was in the building sent the seemingly fearless sociopath Tammy 2 running for her life. So what went wrong? Ron married the devil incarnate. Three times.
The Couples in Question: Shirley, Chang, Pierce (sevenfold), and the parents of Jeff, Abed, Annie and possibly Troy
Relationship Statuses: All divorced, though Shirley and her husband have rekindled
What Went Wrong: Either Dan Harmon harbors some kind of resentment towards the institution of marriage, or this is some kind of carefully woven and ingenious interconnecting story point that will eventually encompass each of the characters (I assume the latter, as Community always impresses me beyond my wildest expectations). In any event, here are the specifics:
Shirley's ex-ex was unfaithful, so she left him. However, Christians forgive.Chang was unfaithful to his wife (with Shirley...see? Already there's interconnectivity!); the two were already having problems due to a diminished frequency of salsa dancing.Pierce is a bigoted, narcissistic buffoon (who I really hope rejoins the study group in Season 3 after an immaculately ironic coming-of-age arc).Now for the parents...Jeff's dad was a physical an emotionally abusive "two-bit conman" who ran out on the family when Jeff was still young.Abed's father "has an angry energy, but not like angry at America—just angry at [Abed's] mom for leaving him, although she did leave because he was angry, and he is angry because she's American."It's unknown what caused the divorce between Annie's parents. However, from her anecdotal interjections, one can surmise that neither one was a particularly supportive parent, and therefore they were probably both pretty crappy spouses, too.What happened with Troy's parents is ambiguous. He has never explicitly made mention of a divorce, even when Abed and Annie were sharing stories of their own parents splitting in Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas, but he has spoken about his dad having a girlfriend in the present. Tragically, this could mean that his mother has passed, but Troy does sporadically refer to his mother with a tone suggesting that she is still alive. Let's stay optimistic.
These are just scraping the surface; for better or worse, there are plenty of other examples on TV today. Let's hear what you can come up with, so we can all lament and wallow together.